That was how emerging from the ornate stone bowl of the pensive, from the cold liquid surface of the memories which it contained, always made him feel. By this point Harry had lost track of all the times he’d used the thing, but each and every time the end results were always the same.
It was late on the night of the first day of his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the windows surrounding him were filled with fluid blackness. Harry found himself once again standing amidst the relative clutter of the Head Master’s office, Dumbledore beside him, after having just bared witness to a rather disconcerting first-meeting between the now ancient man and the child who would grow to be the monster the world now knew as Voldemort.
Tom Riddle had looked disturbingly human, back then. A boy who had, perhaps, never known even the most basic of simple kindnesses and despite the cold front which he presented was truly in genuine pain. Far too proud to seek for the help that wasn’t there to begin with.
“If I may ask, Sir,” Harry finally piped up after successfully having grounded himself back in the present, “why did you show me that memory in particular? What does it have to do with anything?”
“That will be explained in a moment, Harry.” He assured him, sweeping regally across the room to resume his place behind the heavy desk. “But first, before I explain any further, I must ask of you a question. I ask that you answer it with all the honesty that you are able.”
“Tell me Harry, if I were to tell you that you could go back in time and prevent one event of your choice from ever occurring, would you do so?”
Go back in time? A chance to change the past for a better future? “If such were possible, Sir, I think it’s safe to say most people would.”
“Would you be an exception?” Harry shook his head. “What would you change?”
His immediate knee jerk reaction was that he’d go back to that horrible night in Godrick’s Hollow and prevent the murder of his parents, but when he opened his mouth to speak he stopped abruptly. The Head Master was staring at him from behind his half-moon glasses in a way that made him think that this question was in itself a sort of test. And with more examination the prospect seemed a bit selfish.
At once Harry knew what he would do. “I would stop Tom Riddle from ever becoming Voldemort.”
“And how would you go about doing that, Harry? Would you kill him?”
There was no accusation behind the words, but no curiosity either. They were merely blank. “Kill him?” the idea was repugnant, even knowing what the man had done. He couldn’t imagine doing it. Not after having seen the haunted look in the eyes of the orphan boy who'd been sitting on the little metal cot in that long ago memory. “No. I wouldn’t kill him. But I’d do all in my power to save him from himself.”
That had to be the most dangerous question he’d ever been asked in his entire life but he’d seemed to have gotten it right. Dumbledore smiled.
“I’m sure that you’ve suspected this in some capacity, even if you were never directly told. You, Harry, and the boy who became Lord Voldemort are very much the same. Were it not for your compassion, your ability to love, and your ability to accept that there are in fact some things worse than death-such as not knowing love or basic kindness-I rather think you might well have become a carbon copy of the shell that is the most powerful dark wizard this world has ever known.” He said slowly. “The Dark Lord has done many atrocious things, horrible horrible unforgiveable things, but people have forgotten-as people often do when confronted with those who do evil-that his first victim, and I believe the one who has suffered most at his hands, is Voldemort himself. Or rather the man he could have been had he not strayed down so dark a path as he did.”
“Why are you telling me this, sir? Is it so that I can better know my enemy, or…”
“To know your enemy is most wise indeed, Harry. But no. That is not why I am telling you this.” Dumbledore reached into one of the desk’s many draws and drew out a square shaped object, resting it gently atop the imposing piece of furniture for him to see. The leather bound diary he’d stabbed with the basilisk fang while in the Chamber of Secrets during his second year. “I had suspected for some time that such Dark Magic was what we were dealing with when it came to Voldemort, but not until you brought me this did I know for sure that my fears were justified. And where I suspect, from your description of the projection of him that it showed you, that this was his first it was far from his last. In fact, I have good reason to believe there are seven of them in total.”
“Seven of what, Sir?”
“Horcruxes, Harry.” The Head Master replied grimly. “The only Dark Art which is truly and inherently evil in that its creation can only be achieved by purely selfish motives. To murder is to maim the soul, my dear boy, and to create a Horcrux is to remove the splintered portion from yourself and anchor it to another object or living being so that you cannot truly die. What Voldemort feared above all else was death, and so he went to impossible lengths to ensure his ability to evade its clutches. Destroying his humanity in the process.”
“Is that why…he looks the way he does, Sir?” Dumbledore nodded. “As long as he has these Horcruxes he can’t die?” Another nod. “So we’re going to have to destroy all of them?”
“And how many are left? Six?”
“Five.” He replied. “This diary was one. This ring,” the Head Master held up his blackened hand, showing off the ring with the split black stone, “was another. There are five more, and though I’ve managed to deduce the identity of at least two more those of the other three and the whereabouts of all of them have been quite elusive. Finding them will take years. Potentially more time than we have. Having Mr. Riddle’s assistance in matters would be invaluable.”
“But Voldemort would never…” Harry’s eyes widened behind his glasses when the context of the earlier line of questioning suddenly clicked into place. “You’re sending me back in time to bring Tom Riddle before he became Voldemort back to the present to help us hunt down his own Horcruxes?”
“Close, Harry, but not quite. Sending you into our timeline’s past and bringing our timeline’s young Tom Riddle back with you would cause far too much of a temporal disturbance.” He said, small smile going a bit wider when Harry relaxed. “So I’ll be sending you into an alternate parallel timeline instead. Naturally you’ll have to do a bit of work with Tom before he’ll be willing to help us but I’m sure that you can manage it.”
“Professor, what if I can’t-.”
“No one is born truly evil, Harry, but those starved for acceptance can turn resentful in love’s absence and lash out at the world around them. Tom Riddle can still be saved, if not conventionally; as his direct foil, I’ve reason to believe you’re the only one who stands a chance at getting through to him.”
“I’m not a hero.”
“Perhaps not, but you are a good person Harry. You just told me that were you given the chance to go back in time you would do all in your power to save Tom from himself. You’re being given that chance now. Are you going to make good on your words, or leave a man in desperate need of his cry for help being heard to his own nonexistent mercy?”
Harry flinched, then caught the aged Wizard in a somewhat scornful glare.
“Don’t think you do not have a choice in matters. If you would rather do it the conventional way, we shall. Most might agree that the conventional way is far more sound, that attempting such a thing would be a gamble most unwise, and whether you agree with them or not is entirely up to you.”
Expression vapid to hide his true emotions. Voice utterly flat and cold. Dark charcoal eyes defiant even as they barely succeeded in keeping back the ocean of pain which lurked behind.
“How would I even get there? To that alternate timeline, I mean? And how would I get back?”
Reaching once more into his desk Dumbledore pulled out a simple silver ring. “This is an object very similar to a portkey, only rather than transporting the user to another location it transports a user to another time or timeline.” He held it out towards him and Harry took it gingerly, looking at the ring as if it might suddenly sprout fangs or explode. “Simply put it on as you would a normal ring.” Only when Dumbledore sent an expectant look at him did he comply. “And turn it three times in the desired direction: counter-clockwise to travel backwards and clockwise to travel forwards. Not yet!”
Harry froze with his hand half way to the ring.
“I think it wise you take your cloak, as well as that clever map, with you.” Harry hadn’t thought of that. “Be aware that the ring has been enchanted so that it will take you to whichever room you are standing in at the time of activation so be mindful of where you activate it, especially when you return.”
“I will Professor.”
Harry nodded over his shoulder at the Head Master before leaving the office and rushing through the halls of the castle back up towards Gryffindor Tower to retrieve his Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map from his trunk. Thankfully the Dorm room was empty but for Neville who, when Harry came in, had been in the process of trimming his Mimbulus Mibletonia. He hurriedly shoved both the map and his cloak into his robes and, after grabbing Hedwig for good measure, rushed down the stairs in the hopes of leaving the common room and finding a deserted room or corridor where his sudden disappearance would go unnoticed and consequently not noticing Hermione until he’d nearly mowed her down.
“Harry, there you are!” She said, sounding worried. “Where are you off to in such a hurry? We’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I was with Dumbledore; he called me into his office earlier.”
“Really?” Ron asked as he ambled over as well. “What about?”
“I…” Harry briefly considered lying but decided against it, opting for a half-truth instead. “I’ve been given a mission of sorts. And I won’t be around for most of the year, if not all of it, it seems like.”
“Blimey Harry, what sort of mission is it?”
“Nothing like what you’re thinking, Ron. I haven’t been inducted into the Order of the Phoenix or anything like that.” He told them with a sigh, fidgeting slightly and casting a surreptitious glance towards the exit of the common room. “I’ve been asked to go looking for someone who’s in hiding from both the ministry and the death eaters because of his connection to Voldemort.”
“And why can’t he send someone else to do it? Someone of age?” Hermione asked, her voice almost a hiss. “For God’s sake, you’re still in school Harry!”
“He thinks that I’ll stand the best chance of finding him; has reason to believe that he’s a Parselmouth and that to have any hope of finding him it’d be necessary to question the serpents that might be helping him.” A bit of a reach but he had to think on his feet. “And he’s arranged for alternate ways to continue my schooling Hermione. I won’t fall too far behind and will still be able to take my N.E.W.T.S.”
“Really, Hermione I need to leave. A portkey has been arranged and I need to hurry before it leaves without me.”
“Oh, Harry.” She threw her arms around him without warning, nearly knocking him over. “At least try to be careful.”
“Yeah, mate. Don’t forget about us either; if you need help-.”
“I’ll get into touch.” Not that that would be possible. “I’ll see both of you soon, if all goes well.”
At least he hoped that he would.
Not many people were still out in the halls of the castle at that time of night, so it was easy enough for him to find a secluded area. After stepping into the shadows for good measure, Harry looked down at the ring on his hands and after a moment further of reluctance turned it three times in the counter-clockwise direction. The hallway he was standing in blurred and tilted and Harry felt as if he were falling; he squeezed his eyes shut swiftly to stop himself from becoming sick and when he opened them again he was standing in the same hallway in 1942.
There was some discrepancy in the exact time between this timeline and his own, he noticed swiftly, as rather than the darkness of night faint late evening sunlight was streaming through the window above him. Hedwig hooted rather indignantly from within her brass cage and Harry looked down at her apologetically, but before he could speak an aged man rounded the corner looking rather cross.
“Oh, there you are Mr. Potter! I do believe I told you not to leave my office before the Sorting had taken place!”
Leave his office? Sorting? Apparently there had been more enchantments placed upon the ring than Dumbledore had told him, though looking back on it-or was it forwards, or perhaps horizontally?-he really ought to have expected that the cunning wizard wouldn’t have sent him in blind without even the barest trace of a story to disguise him. Not when he’d be facing off with not only a younger version Voldemort but a younger version of Dumbledore as well.
“I…uh…apologize Professor. I was curious and must have gotten lost.” He managed to croak passed his surprise as the man all but frog marched him down the stairs and towards the Great Hall.
“Precisely why I told you not to wander; once you’re Sorted and settled into a House one of the Prefects will be assigned to assisting you in getting the hang of the layout of our noble school, but until then cooperation would be appreciated. I’d rather not have to explain to anyone exactly how it was that on his first day here the exchange student went missing after straying into a vanishing cabinet!”
“Right. Sorry, Professor.” Harry didn’t have the slightest clue who the man was but could hazard a guess, due to his resemblance to one of the many portraits in Dumbledore’s office, he was the current Head Master Armando Dippet.
He found himself deposited outside the doors of the Great Hall by the aged man and told to stay put until his name was called. Nodding mutely, Harry watched his guide disappear towards the staff table at the front of the room.
He found himself relieved to see that the Great Hall at least, hadn’t changed.
He lingered out in the hallway until after all of the first years had been Sorted, and only then was he called to the front of the hall and introduced.
Despite being in an entirely different time neither the stool nor the hat had changed.
Interesting. It murmured in his ear. Very interesting indeed. You’ve done much, for one so young. Rather brave of you, seeking to alter time to save another when they’ve cause you so much pain. When Harry stiffened the Hat laughed. Yes, boy. Don’t think I don’t know. I know everything about you just by being put on: how did you expect I Sorted students. I know which House I tried to put you in and I know which House you asked for. So allow me both to lend your pursuits a helping hand-though I have none-and do my job properly this time around eh? “SLYTHERIN!”
Even knowing Slytherin was the best of the four Houses for the success of his ultimate goal for being there at all he couldn’t help but be minorly appalled. The hat was tugged off his head as he rose from the stool, making his way to the green and silver draped table amidst a storm of cheers and applause and seating himself on the furthest end of the table. Hoping that no one would bother approaching him until at least after dinner.
Such hopes were dashed as he reached for a plate of steak and kidney pie when, with a graceful flourish of their robes, someone descended lightly onto the bench beside him. They did not immediately ask him questions but turned to stare at him instead; out of the corner of his eyes all he could make out of them was their figure-male and with their head cocked curiously to one side-and so decided to ignore them in favor of his food.
The staring didn’t stop, nor did the silence between them break, and if anything that got to him more than attempts to speak would have. So after desert had appeared and he could take it no longer Harry turned to face the perpetrator of the unwanted intrusion only to very nearly choke on a mouthful of treacle tart.
A pair of intense eyes-not black, like he’d always thought up until then but rather a deep shade of indigo blue-bore into him mercilessly from a too-handsome face which he instantly recognized. The entirety of the rest of the Slytherin table was silent as well-how he hadn’t noticed until now was a mystery to him-watching the dark haired boy watch him with what almost amounted to fear. As if expecting the other to explode at any moment like some sort of living bomb.
Noticing that he at last had Harry’s full attention the youth’s face broke into what was clearly meant to be a disarming smile, pale lips parting to reveal perfectly straight perfectly white teeth. “I apologize if I’m intruding, but even when one finds themselves in an unfamiliar place they shouldn’t have to sit alone. I thought I’d save you from looking ever so lonely.” In a perfectly controlled fluid motion he brought up his hand and extended it across what little space remained between them. “Tom Riddle. I’ll be your guide; it will be my responsibility to ensure that you learn your way around the building and feel at home here in Hogwarts.”
“But how can you be sure that you’ll be the Prefect assigned to assist me?” though that would be the most advantageous for his mission, Harry wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be stuck with him constantly. “Isn’t there more than one of them?”
“There are six Prefects to each House, yes. But you can rest assured that I’ll be the one to show you around.”
“And why is that?” even now and with such a simple thing he couldn’t resist challenging him.
“Because I want to. And one thing you can always be sure of, Harry Potter, is that I always get what I want.”
And like that Tom rose from the table and swept out of the Great Hall amidst the crush of other students, vanishing around the corner of the open doors no doubt to wait for him out of sight. Harry sat there, dumbstruck, for a while before finally getting up to move.
It hadn’t been hatred shinning in those indigo eyes, but something else entirely. And if anything that knowledge frightened him even more.